Above, the Seven Airheart, in Boston, just before its first adventure.
As cyclists we hold self-evident the truth that a bicycle with include the quality of any travel. I’ve taken that belief a step further by making sure I include a bike in all of my travel. However, I wasn’t able to take that step until I’d figured out a way to make flying with a bike an expense that wasn’t as pause-giving as a new clutch in an all-wheel drive car.
Let me back up a sec. I’ve been traveling with bikes for more than 20 years. I’ve shipped bikes by UPS, ridden trains with them, flown with them and even had one overnighted with FedEx. And yes, I’ve rammed them into a garage, or two. I’ve used everything from cardboard to what are seemingly the most durable cases ever to house a bicycle. At this point, I’ve seen it all. I’ve pulled bikes from cases that have been mauled by baggage handlers (anyone remember the American Tourister commercial?) only to find the bike was fiddle fit. I’ve also seen flattened top tubes and rear dropouts cold-set to a spacing of 5mm, though none of those were mine.
For the last four years I’ve been traveling with a bike retrofitted with S&S couplers. The benefits that came with packing my bike into a 26-inch square case, from a standpoint of cost and ease, are as impossible to overstate as describing how big some black holes are. It was this reality, this slow education, that led to my conversation with Seven Cycles and the resulting product of that conversation, the limited-edition Seven Cycles Airheart. Even if the Airheart only serves as a template for a reader to find a framebuilder to retrofit an existing frame with S&S couplers, that alone will be service enough to make the project worthwhile. However, most people have more than one bike, and of the many dividends a second bike can confer, easier travel is hard to beat. So before I get to the actual review of the Airheart, I wanted to lay out the thinking that led to this bike.
Surprisingly, bike damage isn’t what drove this project. Airline fees and logistics are. Simply put, fees are on the rise. Less than a year ago you could fly a single checked bag for free with United; they’ve now normalized to what the other big carriers charge. Leg room, meals, luggage, wifi, they charge for everything except soda these days, and given the way the costs on snack boxes have risen, I’ve got to imagine $1 Cokes can’t be far behind.
But what about the bike? It used to be that you could fly with a bike in a standard case (or cardboard box, if your personal style ranged to swashbuckling) for all of $50. Internationally, they usually went free. Those days are as gone as Lance Armstrong’s career. It’s possible to argue over the minutiae of shipping vs. flying with your bike, or all the perks you get for flying business class (or first class) vs. economy, but traveling with a coupled bike wins on several fronts. Most people fly economy, and for good reason; you can tack on extra legroom, wifi, a meal and two checked bags and still pay less than you would for a seat in business class. With the money you save you could take your sweetie out for a nice dinner, which is smart given that this conversation is heading toward acquisition of yet another bike.
If you fly with a carry-on suitcase, you can fly a bike in an S&S case for $25 with the big carriers. With some of the budget carriers like Jet Blue and Southwest, it goes for free. Compare that to the $200 you’ll pay with most of the big carriers for domestic flights and $150 for international flights for any oversize bike case. I don’t expect those few sentences to make the case for how expensive air travel with a bike case has become, so I prepared the handy-dandy table below that gathers the info for the majority of routes readers are likely to encounter, save my friends in product management who head to Asia every three to five weeks. Those poor sods.
I’ll warn you now, you may want an antacid when you finish reading this.
|Airline||Oversize||Standard size, first bag|
|American||$200||$150||$25 ($35 2nd)||Free ($100 2nd)|
|US Airways||$200||$150||$25 ($35 2nd)||Free ($100 2nd)|
|United||$200||$200||$25 ($35 2nd)||Free ($100 2nd)|
|Delta||$200||$200||$25 ($35 2nd)||Free ($100 2nd)|
|Alaska||$75||$25 ($25 2nd)|
|Air France||$300||Free ($75 2nd)|
|Lufthansa||$150||Free ($100 2nd)|
|Virgin (Am./Atl.)||$50||$60||$25 ($25 2nd)||Free ($85 2nd)|
Are you ready for more bad news? No? Too bad. The costs don’t end there. Traveling with a bike box or travel case requires a larger than usual vehicle to transport it. Most van services laughed when they saw my Bike Pro case. That can force you to rent an SUV or something of similar girth, or find a station wagon taxi, which can be harder than finding a Wall Street banker driving an economy car. The only time I’ve dodged this particular headache was when I was joining a bike tour and they had a van ready for such luggage.
I’ve fit an S&S case in the trunks of cars so small I had a hard time fitting in my son’s child seat. It fits on a bell captain’s luggage cart. Think of all the headaches you’ve ever encountered while traveling with an oversize box or case and then multiply them by zero; that’s what you get with an S&S case.
Once at a destination, an S&S case carries none of the attendant pain of, “Where the hell do I put this effing case?” I’ve stowed it in closets, beneath beds, on balconies and behind curtains. It takes up less room than the bike, which is the opposite of most cases, where it takes up more room than the bike, rather like a garage occupies more space than a car. Imagine folding up the garage when it’s not in use. Where’s that super genius, Wile E. Coyote, when you need him?
I’m fond of saying that I’m only on this spinning rock once that I know of. It’s become a guiding principle, of sorts. It’s a big world, and we should get out there and see it, with the help of a great bike. This is what led to the Seven Cycles Airheart, the review of which comes next.